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Taxing producers for emergency assistance?

By John Stencel

Picture this: A devastating hurricane, arguably the worst one to hit in a decade, rips through several states. There is widespread damage to homes and other buildings. Roads and bridges must be repaired before they can be used.”

Not unexpectedly, the governors of the affected states declare them disaster areas, and emergency disaster funding begins pouring in. The money is used to help people repair and replace what they have lost so that they can get on with their lives. Few Americans would begrudge the citizens of such a disaster the federal assistance they receive, realizing that the actual costs are well beyond what they receive from the federal government.

So, can you imagine the outrage that would occur if those receiving assistance to deal with the emergency found deductions in their Social Security checks or cutbacks in their local police force as ways to offset the cost of the federal emergency funding?

That is exactly how some in the U.S. House are suggesting we fund emergency disaster assistance to American farmers and ranchers devastated by drought and other natural disasters. President George Bush took a hard line on emergency assistance when it was first raised last spring. Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman first responded to requests for assistance by saying that the farm bill should take care of any losses. When reminded that farm bill programs worked only if producers had crops and prices were low, the Bush administration suggested that any disaster funding allocated should be offset by cuts to farm bill programs.

In fact, farm bill payments will be $5 billion less than projected due to smaller yields and better commodity prices for farmers who do have a crop. The U.S. Senate in early September passed a bill that would provide emergency assistance to producers suffering losses from natural disasters and is estimated to cost about the same amount as the projected savings.

Even still, President Bush and many in Congress have refused to address the impact of the drought on producers and rural America with significant action. While opening up Conservation Reserve Program land for haying and grazing and implementing a feed program with excess milk powder has been helpful, it is like trying to dam the Mississippi River with twigs.

To their credit, all Colorado representatives, except for Rep. Scott McGinnis, R-Colo., have signed on as co-sponsors of a bill sponsored by Rep. Barbara Cubin, R-Wyo., that would provide emergency disaster assistance. Rocky Mountain Farmers Union is strongly urging members of the U.S. House to pass this legislation and President Bush to sign it now!

Many producers in the Rocky Mountain region are hanging on by a thread. Even with emergency aid, some will not survive. But for many more, this assistance could make the difference between sinking and swimming.